Preventing Dust Explosions Will Be the Focus of CSB Public Hearing

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) investigators Angela Blair and Giby Joseph will present preliminary findings from the board's investigation of dust explosions and will include a brief review of dust explosions that have occurred in the United States, during a June 22 public hearing in Washington.

The hearing is part of an ongoing investigation into the causes and prevention of dust explosions such as the tragedies in Kinston, N.C. (West Pharmaceutical Services); Corbin, Ky. (CTA Acoustics); and Huntington, Ind. (Hayes-Lemmerz) in 2003. A total of 14 people were killed and 81 injured in the three accidents.

"Kentucky and North Carolina have learned from their tragedies about the kinds of control measures that should be in place," said CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt, who will preside at the meeting along with board members John Bresland and Gary Visscher. "We want to see progress on the national level before more disasters occur. That's why we are pursuing the study and holding the hearing."

Merritt noted the CSB's preliminary research reveals that nearly 200 dust fires and explosions have occurred in industrial facilities during the past 25 years, resulting in approximately 100 fatalities and 600 injuries.

"We are deeply concerned about this hazard, which is readily preventable," she said.

Blair said the primary purpose of the hearing is to gather information from experts on what changes are needed to reduce the occurrence of these accidents.

"This information will aid our investigation and study and result in recommendations that ultimately will save lives and prevent large economic and job losses," Blair said, adding that recent dust explosions have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and cost hundreds of manufacturing jobs.

Blair noted that the preliminary data does not include similar events at grain elevators and coalmines, which are covered under existing federal safety regulations for dust explosions. However, there currently are no comprehensive federal standards for controlling dust hazards at many industrial sites, Blair pointed out.

More than 20 experts from various fields will participate on several panels at the daylong meeting. Among those expected to speak at the hearing is the noted Professor Rolf Eckhoff of the University of Bergen, Norway. He is the author of several authoritative books on dust explosions. He and other panelists will address a variety of topics, including the impact of dust fires and explosions on society; the status and effectiveness of relevant state fire codes; voluntary prevention programs; and technical barriers to prevention and protection.

Other panelists will include:

  • Al Mitchell and Chris Noles from the Kentucky and North Carolina offices of the state fire marshal, respectively, who will discuss efforts to implement fire prevention codes and to educate local fire marshals about dust hazards.
  • Fire marshal Deral Raynor of Lenoir County, North Carolina, who will speak on his experiences on the scene of the explosion and blaze at West Pharmaceuticals.
  • Michael Wright, health and safety director for the United Steelworkers of America, who will discuss the human impact of dust explosions on workers.
  • Representatives of the North Carolina Department of Labor-Occupational Safety and Health Division, the National Fire Protection Association, the International Code Council, the Aluminum Association and safety experts from manufacturing companies and other trade associations.

Members of the public may deliver brief verbal comments at the hearing after the conclusion of the witness panels. The hearing will begin at 8:30 a.m. on June 22 in the Horizon Ballroom of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, which is located at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington.

The meeting is open to the public and no fee is required to attend. However, seating is limited, and attendees are encouraged to register in advance by e-mailing their names and affiliations to [email protected] Additional information on the hearing is available in a notice published in the May 6 Federal Register.

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